Psychonauts 2 Accessibility
Psychonauts 2 has a fantastic story with wonderful voice acting, but the accessibility features fall short, becoming overpowered by the game's platforming and combat. The result is a great game that is frustrating to play that never left me feeling satisfied for overcoming challenges, instead, relieved.
Score6.5 out of 10
- Subtitles are presented nicely with 2 size options and speaker labels
- Gameplay inputs can be remapped
- Fall Damage and Invincibility mode are available at will
- Good deal of control features
- Combat feels clunky and fiddly
- Audio cues are too subtle
- Subtitles can be confusing with information
- No waypoints and a complicated map system
Double Fine has been talking about Psychonauts 2 and its accessibility for a while now, going as far back to Global Accessibility Awareness Day earlier this year. The game was also a trending topic a few months ago after a tweet from the developer where people caught wind of the already announced invincibility mode, bringing more accessibility discourse to the forefront. Now the game is finally here, we’re excited to get into how the accessibility features feel in play.
To delve into what the game is about, it carries on instantly after Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin that released in 2017 and features a lengthy cutscene to bring you up to speed. You play as Raz who finally gets into the organization known as the Psychonauts, a series of beings that can enter people’s minds and fiddle around with things, as Raz soon finds out. But there’s a mole within the company and a danger on the horizon. Don’t worry, those aren’t spoilers, it’s explained in the first section of the game.
Starting up, you’re introduced to an accessibility-focused menu that’s titled, “Assist Features”. From here you’ll be able to adjust the text language, and you can use your chosen language to pair up with the localized navigation sign UI that changes the in-game signs. Subtitles are also in this section with the option to enable bigger subtitles which I’ll get into more shortly. There’s also a brightness slider and an option to increase the font legibility by using a less stylised font.
What’s featured in this area just scrapes what’s available in the main settings area. If you want to know more about what’s in there you can check out our menu deep dive where we look at what Psychonauts 2 accessibility features are available there. There’s a good deal of features scattered throughout different areas, including the dedicated assist section.
For me, the tutorial portion for Psychonauts 2 felt like too much being crammed into such a small portion of the game which was not wonderful for accessibility. While I was introduced to the game’s main mechanics —being guided through jumping, double jumping, and using my different abilities— I was also being introduced to collectibles, lore, and the current story.
Usually, I’m comfortable with being steadily introduced to these elements, but it felt like there was a constant barrage of information through bubble prompts that made it too complicated to keep on top of everything.
Eventually, the different inputs for gameplay start to feel familiar and soon enough, I’m feeling like a Psychonauts legend. However, a fraction into the starting Brain level and I spent near enough 5-minutes struggling to figure out how to advance.
It turns out, the item I needed to interact with in order to climb a ledge wasn’t indicated and because I was overwhelmed by lore, I’d forgotten a majority of my psychic abilities. Anyway, I’ll complain about waypoints some more shortly.
To make things even more complicated, when you leave the Brain you’re in and reach the headquarters, you’re given a journal that walks you through every single page. Then you’re introduced to ways to upgrade, currency to collect, and a crafting machine to upgrade Raz.
Welcome to the Motherlobe, Get Pleasantly Lost
When you first get to the Psychonauts HQ, one of the pages of the journal contains a complicated and not-at-all-helpful map. It lacks any form of interactivity and is styled after a visitor’s map featuring small, thin text with no zoom feature. Other open-areas have different stylized maps that make using them feel incredibly forgettable and not at all practical. The closest way I felt to being guided was having to explore the entire area as best as I could just to find vent networks to unlock those as fast travel points. But these are only available within the HQ.
While the Brain levels are incredibly linear and somewhat easy to figure out where you need to go, the open-world areas had me discovering a newfound frustration for platforming. Sometimes it was clear where I needed to go, sometimes I had no idea and just ran around, but mostly I was finding the platform-heavy exploring to be too frequent; Rails to grind, swings to grab, distances to hover over. All while feeling obliged to collect every single thing I saw.
The lack of waypoints was my main concern, as you’re usually just offered hints through dialogue or required to observe the surroundings. It took way longer than needed to find a classroom, I also took forever to find a missing cogwheel hidden in a bush for a machine because of the lack of indication there’s something to interact with. No shimmering, no sparkling.
Within Brains, while it’s fairly clear where you’re meant to go, there were some moments where the surrealism of the level would cause nothing but confusion. Specifically, I completed a lighthouse level through what felt like pure luck. There are creatures that weigh you down so you can’t jump where needed. Raz hints that he needs to blast them away, but I couldn’t find any upgrades to achieve that.
However, I managed to slip onto the edge of the lighthouse and last-second jump and hover to the nearby platform, but only just.
In fact, there were many moments in Psychonauts 2 where I only completed tasks purely by accident because I was spamming buttons. This happened so frequently that I began to feel as if this was intentional. The reason being was because, during cutscenes triggered by my “accident”, Raz would not only look but also sound surprised at the situation that just happened.
But I can’t figure out if these were just coincidental scenes due to the tightness of the game’s script. But I guess that’s what happens when you just unleash havoc everywhere by mashing buttons and hoping it works better than logical thinking.
While I’ve already noted how I struggled with not having a waypoint, another way I found myself getting lost was trying to keep my eyes on Raz or the enemies against similar colored environments. The color palettes for a good number of levels felt too similar to the characters and resulted in boss fights, like the image below, being quite visually confusing.
But it was in platforming where I struggled the most, unable to gauge distances and pick out some environmental pathways or ways to traverse such as swinging or climbing. Although, for fans of old-school platformers, this really does feel like a modern reimagining.
Big Brain Battles
The combat in Psychonauts 2 never felt as if there was accessibility involved, at least outside of the useful invincibility mode. There are numerous types of enemies with their own different attacks, weaknesses, and toughness, and they spawn a few at a time so that you’re not overwhelmed by loads. When it comes to actually fighting these enemies, you’re encouraged to utilize nearly all of your skills. Be that dodging, Psi Blasting, attacking, or just jumping all over the place.
There’s not really much in terms of visually warning you against incoming attacks for some enemies, meanwhile, other enemies do. The target lock-on was never clear also, instead, leaving you to just trust that it has locked onto an enemy. There is a hybrid mode for this, which I found to work better for my panicked style of fighting.
Overall, for combat, I was incredibly glad to have an invincibility mode available to turn on at will. It allowed me to focus on just beating the ever-living…well, you know what out of the enemies.
Messy Subtitles and Subtle Audio Cues
As someone who is very reliant on subtitles, I was happy with the presentation of subtitles. While the 2 available sizes are set and can’t be adjusted outside of those ranges, the background box keeps the thick text visible in most settings. They also have speaker labels which are fantastic given how many characters are usually in a scene.
However, the subtitles continually vanished after pausing the game, and there were also issues with other surrounding dialogue that would make the current key dialogue disappear. There were also instances in which dialogue happening in another room and not audible would be subtitled which was incredibly confusing. The below screenshot shows Loboto subtitled, who is, at that time, several floors down and on the other side of the HQ…I think.
For directional audio of characters, I was always unsure where people were as there never appeared to be a distinct sense of left or right or even a change in volume. Nearby characters would begin talking and sound as if they were right next to me.
For audio cues of nearby objects or items of interest, I actually never realized there was a subtle audio cue until Steve Saylor and I sat down and reviewed Psychonauts 2 for accessibility in his video. But essentially, nearby collectibles such as keys or bags will make a sound, alternatively, Raz will say that he can hear something, but with no sense of direction, I grew to ignore all the collectibles.
In the same vein of audio cues and subtitles, there was a massive issue with words in subtitles being capitalized. Now, normally capitalization of words often hints at a specific reason. It may be clues, character names, locations, item names, or even emphasis. For Psychonauts 2, this capitalization felt so inconsistent that I had no idea what it was trying to exactly convey.
Some characters seemed to be capitalized on the first meet, hints were capitalized, and even emphasis was capitalized. I was thankful to be wearing hearing aids to at least know when the emphasis was being spoken. Really, I’d have liked to have seen colors used to differentiate different meanings, but I am a fan of highlighting important words in subtitles.
Psychonauts 2 felt a lot more comfortable playing with the controller than a keyboard and mouse due to the requirements of some levels. Some may have levels with precise balancing, while others may involve multiple inputs at once, such as jumping while attacking, while moving, and while trying to shoot a Psi Blast.
Eventually, you’ll have a total of 8 different physic abilities to assign to 4 hotkeys. Each time you want to replace one with another, you’ll have to go through the process of opening the radial wheel again, choosing a slot, and then using the ability.
The main issue I had is that the controls feel fiddly. Some abilities require you to hold, others can just be tapped, but in the heat of it, it becomes awkward. Instead of tapping to pick up an excitable egg (don’t ask), I’d hold, and then I’d let go of my trigger thinking “I’ve got this and can walk around with this egg” but because it recognized the hold function from pickup when I release the trigger, I lob the egg accidentally. Had I tapped the pick up input, it wouldn’t have lobbed the egg until a second tap.
I did really like enabling the triple jump to glide option as having to double jump then press another input didn’t feel right to me. My concern was that sometimes there was too much button pressing, especially in later levels where platforming becomes more arduous.
The target locks system never seems up to scratch either. Having it set to press meant having an extra button to keep consistently pressing to target different enemies, but having it set to hold meant that it was making me lose out on a finger for other actions. In the end, turning fall damage off and having invincibility mode available at exhausting parts was what got me through.
A note: One level had a timer that made me panic as I kept slipping off and wasting time. The first 2 times I tried it before the timer ran out I just quit the game. After jumping back in and trying again, I ran out of time but realized that despite the timer running out, the game didn’t punish me, which meant that the timer was irrelevant. While this timer felt pointless to have in Psychonauts 2 having no punishment for this was nice for accessibility.
There needed to be a better balance in tutorial segments as I found Psychonauts 2 quite overbearing for an introduction. It felt more like the game expects the player to know the majority of whatever the original game’s mechanics were back in 2005 and assumes you can just blitz through.
While I can’t recall levels having significant flashing sequences, there was an entire Brain level that was heavy on psychedelic colors that moved and flickered as well as the addition of a heavy chromatic abbreviation effect.
There’s a good deal of features available from the settings, but in play, it feels messy and conflicting at times. The amount of platforming and how the combat works had me left feeling no satisfaction in succeeding, instead, I was eager to wait for the autosave and switch off. But while Psychonauts 2 might fall short in accessibility, it’s clear the studio wanted to offer an accessible experience. But really, it was the quality of the story and voice acting alone that was what spurred me to push on.
A review copy of Psychonauts 2 was provided by the developer / publisher.